Discovery Week brings med students to Listowel hospital

·6 min read

LISTOWEL – According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, despite 18 per cent of the population of Ontario living rurally, less than 10 per cent of physicians operate in those non-urban areas. Now, three medical students are considering practising in rural areas, largely because of their experience at Listowel Memorial Hospital (LMH) last week.

Discovery Week is a program offered by Western’s Schulick School of Medicine and Dentistry. It is a unique learning opportunity that has remote hospitals host medical students. This effort is meant to give students a perspective they would not normally have going to medical school in cities.

This year, three students were hosted at Wingham and District Hospital from May 24-27 and three were hosted at LMH and the Fisher Primary Care Clinic from May 30 to June 3.

Charlotte Hansen, Caitlin Carrigan, and Tubba Babar were the students hosted by LMH. They all said that after their experiences here, they would consider working in rural medicine.

“I always thought I could end up in rural medicine,” Hansen said. “But I would say this has definitely opened my eyes and gave me more to think about. I don’t know yet what specialty I’ll be interested in, so I can’t say for sure at this point… If I was going to be in family medicine, which certainly can happen, I would definitely consider rural medicine.”

Carrigan, who is originally from Toronto, always thought that she would stay there. Now, she isn’t so sure.

“Toronto isn’t the end all be all of everything,” she explained. “It’s not the end of the world. I first started thinking, ‘I’m going to end up in an academic institution in the middle of the city. I’m going to work in a hospital (in Toronto).’ Now, not so much.”

“It’s been an exceptional experience,” Babar said. “The experience here has really opened my eyes in terms of the opportunities available, especially practicing in a place like this. Without this transformative experience I would have not been able to really realize and appreciate just how much is possible, even through family medicine. Knowing that now, it helps me reorient myself in terms of my future career. I think what I’m learning here is that you could do so much.

“Everyone’s very approachable and they’ve been very good teachers to all of us. They’ve been very patient with us. Especially as first-year students who started their year in the pandemic, we have not had the same experiences as medical learners that might have gone through med school without a pandemic changing things up.”

In just one week in Listowel, the three of them have gained more experience than they did in first year of medical school. They also got hands-on experience with actual patients, rather than dummies or virtual classes.

“The only other time I heard a murmur was on the heartbeat simulator doll. I actually heard my first murmur on a real person right here. I’m never going to forget that,” Babar recounted.

Dr. Derek Gateman is the lead preceptor in Listowel. He’s been highly engaged in education and assisted with the students’ time here in the town. He says he isn’t the only one who had a great experience with Hansen, Carrigan, and Babar.

“I’ve got a really enthusiastic and consistent response from all the doctors too, who have been teaching residents and medical students for years. But getting this kind of opportunity to see pre-clerk, early medical students in this formative year… it’s always going to be great.”

Aside from clinical experience, Hansen, Carrigan and Babar were also a part of a number of events meant to welcome them to the community. They partook in social gatherings, barbecues, a ‘Women in Medicine night’ hosted at the restaurant Hom, and even managed to fit in a game of golf with some of the doctors at LMH.

“Before this entire thing I thought I was going to be one of those people that would get through my entire educational career without ever playing golf,” Babar joked.

They also presented to students at LDSS about Discovery Week and they were hosted at Dave and Jackie Vande Braak’s farm, to get a better idea of the community and rural life.

Despite the exciting extra-curricular events they participated in, all of them listed a specific clinical experience as their highlight. For Hensen it was working closely with obstetric patients and gaining fundamental experience.

“Learning what kind of questions to ask, what tests need to be ordered at each stage, what you’re then thinking about to prepare them for the next stage, looking at the ultrasound and seeing the developing baby at different points through the pregnancy… that has been a really big highlight for me and reaffirmed that interest,” she explained.

For Babar it was working with patients on a day-to-day basis. For Carrigan it was feeling, for the first time, like her future was in reach.

“It feels kind of foreign to think about yourself in that way,” Carrigan explained. “You’ve been wanting for so long, you’ve gone through the application process, you’re in medical school, and yet it’s still hard to imagine that one day, you’re eventually going to be a doctor. This is the first time I really felt ‘I’m actually going to be a doctor. This is really cool.’”

“I sent my mom a pic (of me) in scrubs,” Babar laughed. “She freaked out!”

For Dr. Gateman, that has been especially rewarding.

“I don’t expect at the end of this that you’re going to answer every one of my questions,” he said to the students. “That’s not the reward. But getting the sense that you got to see – even if it was just one or two patients and take that away – or the ‘firsts’… I find that super rewarding. There’s a part of this which is a little selfish. When we get an early exposure to family medicine, especially at this stage, then it sort of snowballs. So in a self-serving way for someone who loves to teach, the time we invest in your first and second year, has the opportunity for the next five or six years to lead to more teaching opportunities. So I hope that we get to plant that seed and that even if one person has a good experience that leads to one more person wanting to come back for electives. I find that tremendously rewarding.

“This is definitely very worthwhile and rewarding for us as preceptors. On a broader perspective, and I think it does help to fuel our teaching program and encourage learners to be here.”

According to a press release provided by Schulick, “research has shown that one of the four factors which increases the likelihood of a physician choosing to practise in rural and remote communities is a positive exposure to rural practice in medical school.” Dr. Gateman says they have experienced that effect firsthand, and it doesn’t apply to just those that did Discovery Week. In one particular year he said they had a number of students from Windsor. They sought out this hospital because their classmates had a positive experience during Discovery Week or their clerkship.

For students considering doing Discovery Week, Hansen, Carrigan, and Babar have the same advice.

“When you get an opportunity, say yes,” Babar advises.

Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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